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Tyson Foods launches Poultry Farmers’ Bill of Rights

Tyson Foods has launched a Bill of Rights for its poultry suppliers as part of its role to improve communications and become more transparent.

Thousands of independent farmers have been sent the contract along with a note explaining the company’s decision to develop an advisory council made up of farmers and plans to invest in new communications technology.

The company has been working with poultry farmers on a contractual basis since the late 1940s, supplying the birds and feed as well as technical advice, while the poultry farmer provides the labour, housing and utilities.

Performance-based incentive scheme for farmers

It currently pays more than $800m annually to around 4,000 independent poultry farmers. Poultry farmers are essentially paid for how well they take care of the chickens and how much weight the birds gain while they are on the farm. The company uses a performance-based incentive scheme that rewards poultry farmers who effectively convert the feed provided into weight gain in the birds they raise.

Doug Ramsey, Tyson Foods group president, poultry, said: “2-way communication is key to any productive relationship and the goal of an advisory council is to provide a platform where contract poultry farmers can share their views of the business environment for raising chickens, allowing us to gather insights that might help us improve how we operate.” Photo: Bart Nijs
Doug Ramsey, Tyson Foods group president, poultry, said: “2-way communication is key to any productive relationship and the goal of an advisory council is to provide a platform where contract poultry farmers can share their views of the business environment for raising chickens, allowing us to gather insights that might help us improve how we operate.” Photo: Bart Nijs

Premium poultry housing

Tyson Foods has said there has been a major shift in the past 10-15 years in the type of housing used by its poultry farmers with most converting to premium housing with solid side walls and computer-controlled ventilation and heating, enabling the birds to have a more comfortable living environment and uniform temperatures

The Bill of Right document covers:

  • The right to a written copy of their contract
  • The right to information detailing how much they are paid
  • The right to discuss their contract with outside parties
  • The right to a fixed length contract that can only be terminated for cause – typically contracts are between 3-7 years but some are 10-15 years long
  • The right for the poultry farmer to terminate the contract with Tyson Foods for any reason or no reason by giving a 90-day prior written notice for broilers and turkeys and 60-day written notice prior to scheduled removal of poultry from farmer’s housing for hens and pullets
  • The right to join an association of contract poultry farmers
  • The right to poultry welfare standards and training

Doug Ramsey, Tyson Foods group president, poultry, said: “2-way communication is key to any productive relationship and the goal of an advisory council is to provide a platform where contract poultry farmers can share their views of the business environment for raising chickens, allowing us to gather insights that might help us improve how we operate.”

Smartphone application to assist contract farmers

Speaking about the advisory council, Mr Ramsey said details were still being discussed, including a process to allow those farmers who are interested to potentially participate as members of the council.

In the coming months, Tyson plans to roll out a functional smartphone applications designed for its contract poultry farmers.

“We value our relationship with each and every farmer we contract with. Farmers are the backbone of agriculture and are critical to our business. They go to work early and often work late into the evening, always with the welfare of the flock in mind. Because of their dedication, we’re able to help feed the world and daily live our purpose of raising the world’s expectations for how much good food can do.”

Tyson Foods, along with Pilgrim’s Price Co, Sanderson Farms Inc and other companies, were at the centre of a law-suit last year when a group of US chicken farmers sued them over allegedly conspiring to depress their pay.

The allegations were that the companies illegally agreed to share detailed data on grower pay with one another to keep compensation below competitive levels. Tyson called the allegations “false claims.”

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